Malala Yousafzai's mom opens up about learning to read and write

Oct 13, 2015 at 7:25 p.m. ET

In 2013, Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai finished off her moving speech to the UN General assembly with an inspiring message about the importance of education: "Let us pick up our books and our pens; they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first."

This message has not been lost on Yousafzai's own mother, who recently opened up about her own literacy challenges. The 18-year-old Pakistani children's rights activist's mother, Tor Pekai, has spoken publicly for the first time, revealing that she has returned to school to learn to read and write. Her biggest challenge? Being nagged incessantly by her daughter to do her homework.

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"I love it very much. I enjoy reading and writing and learning, but when I come home and they have given me homework, I put my bag in the corner — I say 'I can't be bothered,'" she told the audience at the Women in the World Summit in London. "But then Malala comes home and says, 'Where is your bag? Have you done your homework?' and I want to say 'Oh, it's a bit hard!'"

Though Pekai is learning to speak English now, too, she used an interpreter to tell the audience that she left school at a young age when she found herself the only girl in the classroom, but that she is now happy and proud to be learning to read and write, and is learning English, too.

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Joining mother and daughter on stage was Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. As an educator and steadfast crusader for women's rights in Pakistan, he has always been a huge advocate of education for everyone, regardless of gender. In a memorable 2014 TED Talk, he famously said, "People ask me what is special about my mentorship that has made Malala so bold and courageous, vocal and poised. I tell them, 'Don't ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do.' I did not clip her wings, and that's all." His commitment to education for all does not seem to be diminished at all. During the WITW conversation, he reminded the crowd, "There are 66 million girls not in education in the world. My message is that education for everyone must be our mission, our top goal."

Tina Brown, founder and CEO of the WITW Summit, said she was profoundly moved by Tor Pekai's decision to speak on such an emotional day. "So far, she has said nothing, and yet she has been a noble force in Malala's life, as has her father."

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